Why Did NASA Wake Up This Interstellar Spacecraft After 33 Years?

Since it left Earth 40 years ago, NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft has had an enviable adventure across the solar system — and beyond. Though it hasn’t made headlines in a while, the spacecraft delighted space nerds Friday night when news broke that it fired up its backup thrusters for the first time in 33 years.

(March 1, 1979) As Voyager 1 flew by Jupiter, it captured this photo of the Great Red Spot.

Back in its heyday, Voyager 1 visited Jupiter and Saturn — and took exquisite photos of its journey. In fact, according to NASA, the spacecraft hasn’t needed to use its TCM thrusters since November 8, 1980. But even though the Voyager 1 is about 13.1 billion miles from Earth — and was half-asleep for a few decades — its TCM thrusters worked perfectly during this test. It took 19 hours and 35 minutes for the spacecraft’s signal to reach Earth, confirming the experiment worked.

Since this recent test went over swimmingly, the space agency says it will switch Voyager 1 to the TCM thrusters sometime in January. It’ll likely perform a similar test on Voyager 2’s TCM thrusters down the line. In a few years, that spacecraft will join its twin, Voyager 1, in interstellar space. We love a happy ending!

Photos via Flickr / NASA on The Commons, NASA” data-reactid=”26″>Photos via Flickr / NASA on The Commons, NASA

Written by Rae Paoletta

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